JP Williams, Graphic Designer and Archivist


JP Williams has enjoyed plenty of validating moments in his 20-year career as a graphic designer: Getting to study under one of his design heros, Paul Rand, at Yale; winning more than 100 awards for projects like kraft-paper tea packages for Takashimaya; discovering that his collection of baseball cards from 1909 was worth enough to buy his wife and business partner Allison an engagement ring. All well and good, however none of it really compared, he admits, to the feeling of being validated by Martha Stewart. “My next guest thinks this is a work of art and not just a ball of string,” she marveled as she opened a segment of her show dedicated to Williams’s twine collection in 2008, holding up one of its largest specimens. Finally, someone who really understood him.

You see, Williams is the kind of guy who has dedicated his entire life to surrounding himself with good design. And that can mean anything from pale orbs of industrial string to the hairless Cornish Rex cat that he and Allison bought largely because the shape of the breed’s head — a perfect oval — was so deeply satisfying. When the pair travel, they send their laundry out to be cleaned by the hotel just so they can photograph the packaging it comes back in. “We’re not weird,” Williams insists. “We’re compulsive designers, and we look at everything.” So much so that one of their closets at home is packed with no fewer than 60 archival boxes containing vintage office supplies, letterheads, books, and other ephemera — largely Williams’s doing. To call him a collector is an understatement; what he calls his popular blog, “amass,” is probably more representative. There, he posts long, charmingly personal treatises on his finds from the past 30 years, as well as installments from his ongoing photo series of lost, rumpled gloves lying in the street.

In person, Williams is as open and disarming as his online journal would suggest, calling himself the “consummate amateur” and telling endless stories of how he acquired most of his mementos for next to nothing, often before he knew exactly what he had lucked into. His dream is to one day retire and open a shop; until then, he keeps his own shelves so well-stocked that it’s a good thing he and his wife live in a sprawling Tribeca loft that offers plenty of breathing room. In December, he gave us a tour of the space and all the wondrous things in it.